Coyote Gulch's Colorado Water
The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land. -- Luna Leopold

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

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Colorado's own Peter Binney shows up in this long article about warming and predictions for the West's water supply, from The New York Times. Read the whole thing, even though you just lived through the drought. From the article:

Udall suggested that I meet a water manager named Peter Binney, who works for Aurora, Colo., a city -- the 60th-largest in the United States -- that sprawls over an enormous swath of flat, postagricultural land south of the Denver airport. It may be difficult for residents of the East Coast to understand the political celebrity of some Western water managers, but in a place like Aurora, where water, not available land, limits economic growth, Binney has enormous responsibilities. In effect, the city's viability depends on his wherewithal to conjure new sources of water or increase the output of old ones. As Binney told me when we first spoke, "We have to find a new way of meeting the needs of all this population that's turning up and still satisfy all of our recreational and environmental demands." Aurora has a population of 310,000 now, Binney said, but that figure is projected to surpass 500,000 by 2035.

I asked if he had enough water for that many people. "Oh, no," he replied. He seemed surprised that someone could even presume that he might. In fact, he explained, his job is to figure out how to find more water in a region where every drop is already spoken for and at a moment when there is little possibility that any more will ever be discovered.

Binney and I got together outside Dillon, a village in the Colorado Rockies 75 miles from Aurora and just a few miles west of the Continental Divide. We met in a small parking lot beside Dillon Reservoir, which sits at the bottom of a bowl of snow-capped mountains. Binney, a thickset 54-year-old with dark red hair and a fair complexion, had driven up in a large S.U.V. He still carries a strong accent from his native New Zealand, and in conversation he comes across as less a utility manager than a polymath with the combined savvy of an engineer, an economist and a politician. As we moved to a picnic table, Binney told me that we were looking at Denver's water, not Aurora's, and that it would eventually travel 70 miles through tunnels under the mountains to Denver's taps. He admitted that he would love to have this water, which is pure snowmelt. To people in his job, snowmelt is the best source of water because it requires little chemical treatment to bring it up to federal drinking standards. But this water wasn't available. Denver got here before him. And in Colorado, like most Western states, the rights to water follow a bloodline back to whoever got to it first.

One way to view the history of the American West is as a series of important moments in exploration or migration; another is to consider it, as Binney does, in terms of its water. In the 20th century, for example, all of our great dams and reservoirs were built -- "heroic man-over-nature" achievements, in Binney's words, that control floods, store water for droughts, generate vast amounts of hydroelectric power and enable agriculture to flourish in a region where the low annual rainfall otherwise makes it difficult. And in constructing projects like the Glen Canyon Dam -- which backs up water to create Lake Powell, the vast reservoir in Arizona and Utah that feeds Lake Mead -- the builders went beyond the needs of the moment. "They gave us about 40 to 50 years of excess capacity," Binney says. "Now we've gotten to the end of that era." At this point, every available gallon of the Colorado River has been appropriated by farmers, industries and municipalities. And yet, he pointed out, the region's population is expected to keep booming. California's Department of Finance recently predicted that there will be 60 million Californians by midcentury, up from 36 million today. "In Colorado, we're sitting at a little under five million people now, on our way to eight million people," Binney said. Western settlers, who apportioned the region's water long ago, never could have foreseen the thirst of its cities. Nor, he said, could they have anticipated our environmental mandates to keep water "in stream" for the benefit of fish and wildlife, as well as for rafters and kayakers.

Category: Colorado Water

8:36:25 PM    

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Here's the satellite view of last summer's melting of the Arctic ice cap through the lens of NASA. Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

3:33:36 PM    

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The state Supreme Court has ordered a case for a new reservoir in the Pagosa Springs area back to District 7 Water Court, according to The Durango Herald. From the article:

The state Supreme Court has denied a large water right for a new reservoir above Pagosa Springs. The reservoir, which would be called Dry Gulch Reservoir, would meet the future needs of fast-growing Archuleta County. Trout Unlimited appealed, saying the plan was based on unrealistic growth estimates. On Monday, the Supreme Court overturned a large water right for the reservoir and sent the case back to District Judge Gregory Lyman in Durango. Lyman could order a new trial or accept new evidence and arguments. "We couldn't really have hoped for a better opinion. We think the Supreme Court got it right," said Drew Peternell, Trout Unlimited's attorney...

The San Juan Water Conservancy District - a partner organization to the Pagosa water district - already has a 6,300-acre-foot conditional right for Dry Gulch Reservoir, and [Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District District Manager Carrie Campbell] said water managers plan to build the reservoir in some form. "We have no choice," she said. It's needed for population growth, and the Dry Gulch site - a mile and a half east of Pagosa Springs - is the best site in the area, she said. The case began in 2004, when the Pagosa district won a 29,000-acre-foot conditional water right in a trial in Lyman's court. The water would come from the San Juan River. The district based its request on population projections to the year 2100. Trout Unlimited appealed, saying the predictions were unrealistic. In 2005, the Pagosa district served 9,500 people with about 2,000 acre-feet of water, according to the Supreme Court. The Dry Gulch decree included a right to continually refill the lake, bringing the total to 64,000 acre-feet a year. Based on 2005 water use, 64,000 acre-feet would be enough for 304,000 people, or a city twice the size of Pueblo...

In 2003, Pagosa's water engineer, Steve Harris, estimated Dry Gulch would need 12,000 acre-feet of storage to meet demands by 2040. But the next year, the district's board asked for a much larger water right. In the trial, Harris testified the district was worried about a potential recreational water right for a Pagosa Springs kayak park. "That would essentially tie up a good portion of the river, and if you don't get in ahead of it, you're essentially not going to have hardly any water left to use," Harris testified. He also worried about future environmental claims on the river by the state or the U.S. Forest Service. But the state Supreme Court said water rights can't be used to block other people's future uses.

The court's water expert, Justice Gregory Hobbs, wrote the opinion. Colorado water law does not allow "speculating," or claiming large amounts of water that might never be used. The system is set up to ensure the best use of the public's water, Hobbs wrote. However, "optimum use can be achieved only through proper regard for all significant factors, including environmental and economic concerns," Hobbs wrote. In a previous case from the Denver suburb of Thornton, the high court decided 50 years was a reasonable time frame for water planners to use. Pagosa's 100-year plans doubled that period. Justice Nathan Coats, however, said the 50-year standard is dangerous. Cities need to be reined in by proving they can build their systems in a "reasonable" time period. Otherwise, they will claim vast amounts of water based solely on 50-year population projections, Coats wrote in a concurring opinion.

Category: Colorado Water

7:38:59 AM    

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Silverthorne's application for a Recreational In-Channel Diversion for their whitewater park was approved October 7th according to The Summit Daily News (free registration required). From the article:

Water Division 5 Judge Daniel Petre signed the application on Oct. 7, two months after the last of 11 objectors to the application stipulated to a consent decree, canceling a five-day water court trial to settle the matter. The signature represented the last step in a nearly three-year process to gain the flows necessary to support a kayak park, said Silverthorne town manager Kevin Batchelder.

The Town filed for a recreation in-channel diversion (RICD) in December 2004 that would secure flows of 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) into the Blue River from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. from May through September. Additionally, the water right would allow flows of 600 cfs during the Fourth of July, Labor Day and Memorial Day holidays, in part to facilitate commercial rafting trips on the Blue during those popular weekends. Denver Water owns the Dillon Reservoir and controls the annual release of water to Green Mountain Reservoir via the Blue River. At least 90 percent of the water must be available for the Town to make a call on its water rights, according to the decree...

Campton said 600 cfs is plenty of water to run the 6-mile, class 3 stretch of river. Currently, running rafting trips on the Blue River is hit-or-miss depending on water levels, making trip booking ahead of time difficult. Now, more of the summer tourism money typically spent in Chaffee, Grand or Fremont counties will stay in Summit, Campton said. The daily, 100 cfs during the summer months is designed to provide a recreational experience for beginning kayakers and to accommodate a proposed "park and play" wave. The Town of Silverthorne plans to construct a 1,000-foot long kayak course with three control structures in the section of river behind the Outlets at Silverthorne Blue Village...

Eleven entities objected to Silverthorne's application to ensure a seat at the table during negotiations. Stipulations with the Town of Dillon and the City of Colorado Springs were worked out early in the process, while agreements with the Denver Water Board, several state agencies and the Colorado River Conservation District came in the last six months. The Town of Frisco began construction this fall on a whitewater feature for kayakers in Ten Mile Creek, and hopes to be finished by next spring.

Category: Colorado Water

7:23:26 AM    

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Here's an update on the cleanup of uranium tailings near Moab from The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. From the article:

An effort to clean up a 16 million ton pile of uranium mill tailings along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah, hit a milestone Wednesday with the removal of 100 million gallons of contaminated groundwater. The groundwater-removal project is an interim step in the cleanup, which will remove the tailings pile and haul it north to Crescent Junction. In the meantime, the U.S. Energy Department is pumping contaminated groundwater out of the pile at the rate of 250 million gallons a year. Up with that groundwater came 450,000 pound of ammonia and 1,900 pounds of uranium. That ammonia and uranium were prevented from reaching the river, a major step in protecting it and downstream consumers, said Don Metzler, project director for the Energy Department.

The water is being pumped from the pile using a 40-well system that extracts water from a shallow aquifer before its contaminants can leach into the river. Contaminants that escape the pumping system are of such small quantities as to pose no threat to aquatic life or humans, according to the Energy Department. Metzler said he considered trying to capture the uranium and sell it to help defray the costs of the cleanup, which will exceed $120 million. Even though it's a simple process to remove the uranium from the water, Metzler said it wasn't worth the costs of handling, packaging and shipping. "It got complicated, he said. The uranium will be buried with the rest of the pile in an engineered cell to be constructed at Crescent Junction, he said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: 2008 Presidential Election

7:05:18 AM    

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Here's a short article about Judge Robert Klein's District 1 Water Court decress that will allow some irrigators in the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District's Well Augmentation Sub-District to pump, from The Brighton Standard Blade. They write:

In what could become a landmark ruling in one of the largest and most complicated water court cases in Colorado history, Judge Roger Klein of the Division 1 Water Court has determined that irrigators in the Well Augmentation Subdistrict of the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District will receive a decree to operate their wells in the future. Klein's decision came after deliberating on the arguments for four months, following the 30-day trial in March of this year. The conservancy district is situated along the South Platte River basin from Commerce City north along to Greeley and east to Fort Morgan...

In last week's ruling the court approved a permanent plan of augmentation for these wells, which will set the parameters for their operation on a permanent basis. For the purpose of trial, the number of wells was cut back from 440 to 215, in order to improve the chances of getting a decree. The Well Augmentation Subdistrict will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m., Oct. 30, at the Island Grove Events Center in Greeley. The purpose of the meeting will be to communicate the details of the decree with the well owners and answer questions regarding future pumping.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

Category: Colorado Water

6:55:25 AM    

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From The Rocky Mountain News, "A water conservation district near Pueblo filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block a water deal that would allow Aurora to store and purchase water from the Arkansas River basin for the next 40 years. The suit is the latest in a Western water struggle that pits growing cities against agricultural -areas. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation claiming the agencies do not have the authority to grant the deal."

Here are some details about the lawsuit from The Pueblo Chieftain. They write:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District filed a lawsuit against Reclamation Wednesday in Denver federal court saying the federal agency violated the National Environmental Protection Act and ignored its own policies in issuing a long-term water storage and exchange contract to Aurora in September. It also challenges Reclamation's authority to issue contracts to water users outside the Arkansas River basin. "We felt compelled to do our job voters asked us to do when the district was formed in 2002 - protect the water in a basin where the water is already 200 percent overappropriated," said John Singletary, chairman of the district.

The suit claims Reclamation's 40-year water storage contract of up to 10,000 acre-feet in Lake Pueblo and annual paper trades of 10,000 acre-feet will result in the export of 14,000 more acre-feet of water than would otherwise be possible. The contracts facilitate the dry-up of 7,000 acres in the Lower Arkansas Valley, with an estimated economic impact of about $4.3 million per year, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also makes the point that by exchanging Aurora's native flows for Fryingpan-Arkansas Project water, Reclamation is allowing the project to be used to export water outside project boundaries and the basin, contrary to the 1962 Fry-Ark act...

The Lower Ark district also claims water-leasing programs it envisions within the basin will be harmed, that Reclamation does not have congressional approval for the contract, that a full environmental impact statement is needed, that Reclamation failed to follow its own guidelines by failing to analyze the need and that Reclamation failed to look at cumulative impacts or alternatives. The suit calls Reclamation's actions "arbitrary and capricious." Finally, the Lower Ark charges Reclamation failed to meet federal standards for "environmental justice," because of the high percentage of minority and low-income residents in the five-county area served by the Lower Ark district...

"We have to make sure the bureau doesn't do this with someone else: Parker, Douglas County or South Metro. This valley is under attack," Singletary said. "I don't relish fighting the federal government, but we have to protect the valley. If we can stop Aurora with this lawsuit, it will send a message to people outside our basin. The fundamental question is, are we going to allow cities to dry up our agricultural lands?"

More Coyote Gulch coverage here. Reclamation will be defended by the Department of Justice according to Reclamation spokeswoman Kara Lamb.

Category: Colorado Water

6:43:14 AM    

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